“As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” – Battle Hymn of the Republic
One Hundred-and-Fifty years ago today, two armies gathered in the area around a small Pennsylvania town and changed the course of world history. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to the Civil War and Gettysburg. As I grow older, that interest grows more detailed through the reading of books and continued visits to that consequential battlefield.
I’ll focus on the battle itself later in this post. But, you know what makes the biggest impression on me when thinking about the Civil War? I’m sure this isn’t a unique thought, in fact, the question has been asked over and over again since our nation’s founding. How in the world could we say “all men are created equal” with millions in bondage in plantations across the South? Furthermore, couldn’t that issue have been addressed without the deaths of 600,000 soldiers? The period of time from the founding of our nation to the Civil War is shameful for that very reason, from Bloody Kansas, to Harper’s Ferry to the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court. Could this not be address without the shedding of blood?
Contemporary newspaper accounts called Gettysburg the “high water mark of the Confederacy.” Historians aren’t real sure about the real importance of the battle. By the end of the war, the South’s army was in tatters. They just didn’t have the economy to keep up with the industrial north. So, perhaps the battle of Gettysburg just represented the inevitable beginning of the end for Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
It is this that is one of the biggest parts of Gettysburg’s legacy. One Hundred-and-Fifty years ago, in a small town in Pennsylvania, two armies met and started the process of reversing 87-years of errors. What came out of that terrible conflict wasn’t perfect, but it was far better than what came before.